Brown Recommends Late NASA Glenn Director for Presidential Medal of Freedom

The Late Dr. Abe Silverstein, of Fairview Park, Designed the First Supersonic Wind Tunnels and Helped Create NASA’s Human Spaceflight Program

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) today sent a letter to President Barack Obama recommending the late Dr. Abe Silverstein, of Fairview Park, Ohio for the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

“Abe Silverstein was an early space pioneer whose intelligence, hard work, and leadership laid the foundation for scientific discoveries that continue to enrich our nation – and the world,” Brown said. “That’s why I recommend Dr. Silverstein for the Presidential Medal of Freedom. His research helped create our nation’s first generation of operational jet aircraft and provided the vision needed to help America continue a strong legacy of innovation and advanced scientific technology research.”

Dr. Silverstein died in 2001 at age 92. He worked at the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, which later became the National Aeronautics and Space Administration where he designed the first supersonic wind tunnels.

The Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, is presented to individuals who have made unique and lasting cultural, business, scientific, or humanitarian contributions to the United States and democracy around the world.

A copy of the letter can be found here.


                                                                                  April 17, 2012



The Honorable Barack Obama


The White House

1600 Pennsylvania Ave. NW

Washington, D.C. 20501


Dear Mr. President:


I am writing to recommend the late Dr. Abe Silverstein for the Presidential Medal of Freedom.  Dr. Silverstein played an instrumental role in the founding of our nation’s spaceflight program. His leadership as one of NASA’s giants who made our nation’s achievements in space possible, not from the cockpit, but from the laboratory deserves formal recognition.  Dr. Silverstein was a visionary and a gifted engineer who demonstrated world-changing leadership, innovation, vision, and enthusiasm throughout his career.  Dr. Silverstein died in 2001 at the age of 92.


Dr. Silverstein graduated from Rose Polytechnic Institute of Technology (now the Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology).  In 1929, he joined the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) where he designed the first full-scale wind tunnel to be installed at the Langley Research Center.  The research conducted with his wind tunnel helped the United States improve its flying capability during World War II and fostered the creation our nation’s first generation of operational jet aircraft.


As the United States entered the Cold War and ensuing Space Race, he was responsible for the conception, design, and construction of the first supersonic wind tunnels.  In 1958, after serving on the committee tasked to convert NACA into NASA, Abe Silverstein came to Washington, D.C. to be the first head of NASA’s Office of Space Flight Programs.  Under his supervision, the earliest U.S. space probes were created and launched.  His work helped lay the foundation for what would become NASA’s human spaceflight program. 


In addition to leading the planning of the Gemini and Skylab programs, he gave the name “Mercury” to the first U.S. human spaceflight missions and “Apollo” to the moon landing project. 


In 1961, the newly appointed Administrator of NASA, James Webb, was asked by Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson to initiate a daring program to inspire the public.  Webb asked Dr. Silverstein for his suggestions, and he replied, “We could go to the Moon.”  Pressed further, Silverstein stated that the dream of a lunar landing could be achieved within a decade.  His bold claim became reality when, on July 20, 1969, Neil Armstrong became the first human to set foot on the moon.


During his tenure as Center Director of NASA Lewis Research Center (now Glenn Research Center), Dr. Silverstein was a driving force behind Centaur, the country’s first high-energy upper stage rocket.  Centaur was the workhorse that launched over 200 times delivering such famous missions to space as the:  Surveyor robotic spacecraft; Mariner; Pioneer; Viking; and Voyager.   Dr. Silverstein continued to serve as the Center Director of NASA Lewis until his retirement in 1969. 


The United States is the world’s greatest aeronautics and space-faring nation, in no small part, due to NASA’s dedicated and visionary men and women.  Abe Silverstein is the embodiment of those who work on the ground so that others may touch the heavens.  Without engineers, scientists, and technicians like him, our nation’s triumphs in human spaceflight and space exploration would not be possible.


Abe Silverstein was a pioneer that exemplified the intellect, hard work, and spirit that makes our country great.  In celebrating this American life, we honor his legacy and remember the greatness of our people.  I ask that you give him every consideration.






Sherrod Brown

United States Senator





Press Contact